Nokia Lumia 925 review: First metal Lumia gets it right

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MSRP: $529.99

The Good Nokia's Lumia 925 has a sleek, slim, partially aluminum build. Its camera takes great shots, especially in low light conditions, and the LTE smartphone comes in at an affordable price.

The Bad The Lumia 925 is a little wide and squat, and sharp corners diminish handheld comfort. T-Mobile's version has 16GB of storage instead of 32GB.

The Bottom Line Nokia's lovely Lumia 925 delivers a high-end Windows Phone experience, but camera snobs with deep pockets should hold out for AT&T's Lumia 1020.

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8.2 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

Of the three phones in Nokia's US Lumia 920 lineup -- the Nokia Lumia 925, 920, and 928 -- T-Mobile's and AT&T's 925 has the best hardware design, hands down. (And yes, the Lumia 1020's 41-megapixel camera tops them all.)

Slimmer than the rest, the 925 also made with premium aluminum elements and has a tight fit and finish that approaches the pristine finesse of HTC's One. Nokia pumps up the buttoned-up feel by backing off the Lumia's screaming colors and muting the palette to white, black, and gray. A few design quibbles chip away at the effect, though, like edges that seem sharp despite the phone's curved spines.

A competent camera with terrific low-light performance backs up the rakish appearance of this global flagship, which has the same OS and apps as the other top Lumia phones. Still, T-Mobile and AT&T customers should feel smug with this great-looking Windows 8 phone option, which costs $49.99 down ($529.99 all in) with T-Mo and $99.99 on-contract with AT&T.

Design and build
Silvery aluminum trim frames the 925 in the first Lumia to use metal, but the matte plastic backing lashes it to the Lumia family of unibody polycarbonate phones. The design looks good: slim (0.33 inch thick) and clean with very few gaps, and black bands on the spines for accent.

The deep-black glossy screen looks lush and deep; and on the right, aluminum buttons that control volume, power/lock, and the camera button pop out to meet probing fingers. When I hold the phone, its wider dimensions -- 5.1 inches tall by 2.8 inches wide stretch across -- can make the buttons stick out into the hand, even though I like that they're not flush. Unlike the HTC One, the 925's back doesn't bow enough to curve into your palm, so it doesn't feel quite as snug.

Nokia Lumia 925
Nokia's metal Lumia 925 is a looker. James Martin/CNET

I did notice that the white version picked up smudges and discoloration on the back panel, but the schmutz usually rubbed away with a little water and a little muscle.

At 4.9 ounces, the 925 is substantially weighty, not wispy. The phone is a little wide for some pockets, but toss it into a deep pocket or a purse and it's just as portable as any superphone.

Like the other 920 series phones, the 925 has a 4.5 inch WXGA screen with a 1,280x768-pixel resolution. It has the ClearBlack filter for reducing outdoor glare, Gorilla Glass 2 for scratch resistance, and a sensitive touch screen you can navigate with long fingernails or gloves. The AMOLED screen technology means colors pop bright and blacks look rich and deep. Microsoft's graphical Windows Phone design looks great in this treatment, and so do photos, videos, games, and images on Web sites.

Nokia Lumia 925
Nokia grouped the ports at the top to keep the left spine and bottom clear. Volume, power, and camera controls live on the right. Sarah Tew/CNET

Below the display, Windows Phone's three capacitive buttons handle navigation and pull up extra tools, like voice search and task-switching. Above it, you'll find the front-facing camera. Nokia has been making phones for so long, it's a little disappointing that the 925 and other Lumias lack an indicator light on the front to clue you into charging status and alerts.

Keeping it classy, the 925 groups its headset, charging, and Micro-SIM card ports up top. On the back, the stylized camera module pops out slightly, topped by a dual-LED flash.

OS and features
Running Windows Phone 8, the 925's software doesn't deviate from the other Lumia phones. There's NFC support, Bluetooth 3.0 (which could soon turn into Bluetooth 4.0), and the whole host of connectivity and OS features.

One difference from the 920 and 928 is that there's no integrated wireless charging, which is part of what makes this phone slimmer around the midsection. Instead, you can purchase an aftermarket snap-on cover, which does come in screaming colors if you miss them.

On the apps front, Nokia continues to give its phones an edge with the OS, offering up a heap of Nokia-only apps and services, like Music Mix radio. Its Here maps app just recently made the jump to all Windows phones, not just Nokia's. You can find more details on Nokia's apps in the Lumia 920 review.

Camera and video
With each new Lumia 900-series phone, Nokia has subtly changed and incrementally improved the camera's image quality. Like the rest, this one has an 8.7-megapixel lens with PureView processing algorithms.

Instead of the 928's Xenon bulb, the 925 returns to LED flash; two of them, in fact. This time around there's a sixth lens in the Carl Zeiss optical assembly, which Nokia says will take clearer daytime shots. In addition, you have a backside-illuminated image sensor, autofocus, and 4x digital zoom.

The camera app is pretty plain by default, but like all Nokia phones, it includes lenses for panorama and Nokia Smart Cam, which adds a load of effects you also see on top Android phones. You'll be able to edit photos as well.

Nokia Lumia 925
This 8.7-megapixel shooter has a sixth lens and great lowlight capabilities. James Martin/CNET

I was happy with most of the photos I took on the Lumia 925. They were bright, sharp, colorful, and detailed. Not every image packed in every detail, and some sunlit conditions would overwhelmed all the smartphone cameras I used.

Nokia continues to dominate the field in the quality of low-light shots that it takes. Even in very dark rooms with uneven lighting, the Lumia 925 uses its focus flash and image chips to the best effect, with HTC and the iPhone 5 a close second, and Samsung trailing behind, even when set to night mode.

The Lumia's 1080p HD video recorder also produces high-quality video that's smooth, colorful, and an adept tool to tell a visual story. For its part, the 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera adopts a wide angle, and shoots in 720p HD video. The latter is great news for video chatters like me, and the wide angle should help with those selfies.